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The oldest married couples may be the least traditional, professor says

The most "modern" of married couples may be the oldest, according to Dr. Sheila Miller, associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Miami University in Ohio.

The notion that the oldest couples are the most traditional "is based on the assumption that roles develop and don't change over the life span," says Dr. Miller, coauthor of "Families in Later Life."

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In her interviews with older couples Dr. Miller says she "found more sharing" than she expected. Older women are more confident, more assertive and older men are more expressive, she says. Many of the men she interviewed shared in the household chores. Many were not locked into the traditional and masculine roles and divisions of labor. In later years, she says, there seems to be a "drift toward sameness."

Once couples "are not involved with children in a household way," Dr. Miller says, "they feel free to develop their own style."

While most people associate old ways with older people, the most traditional couples are usually middle-age parents, she finds. In those relationships, men are more prone to fulfill the traditional masculine role, the good provider, the partner who is always in control, she says. The middle-age mother, on the other hand, is more apt to act as the "emotional caretaker in family situations," but is more emotional, intuitive, and dependent than her husband. Dr. Miller believes children and career pressures create "an overwhelming desire" among such couples to slip into traditional roles. "There is greater variation among older and younger couples than among middle-age couples," she finds.

Unfortunately, both young and old subscribe to stereotypes of the old, she says, citing a study done by pollster Lou Harris for the National Council on Aging entitled, "Myth and Reality of Aging in America." Among other things, the study discovered that even older people who did not fit the preconceptions accepted the stereotypes, believing they were the exceptions.

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